Emergency Room Misdiagnosis of Brain Aneurysms Is All Too Common

Recent studies have shown that the Emergency Room errors in diagnosing brain aneurysms could result in over 50% of cases going undiagnosed. Each year more than 30,000 Americans suffer from a ruptured brain aneurysm, a condition that carries the serious risks of developing a subarachnoid hemorrhage, i.e. bleeding around the brain.

In the case of brain aneurysms any delay in diagnosis can bring dire consequences and is often the difference between life and death. Therefore it is imperative that Chicago and Illinois Emergency Rooms errors in diagnosing brain aneurysms are minimized.

An aneurysm is similar to a ballooned pocket along the arteries and is thought to be caused by weak artery walls. Because most brain aneurysms appear among the large arteries at the brain’s base, when they rupture the blood leaks into the brain’s subarachnoid space, i.e. the area between the arachnoid membrane covering the brain and the pia mater surrounding the brain. From here the blood spreads to the cerebral spinal fluid that cushions the brain and spinal cord.

The sudden bleed results in a sudden increase in intracranial pressure that can present itself as an explosive headache. Almost 20% of patients reporting “the worst headache of my life”, or similar symptoms, are found to have ruptured aneurysms associated with physical exertion. However, too many of these patients are discharged from the Emergency Room with the wrong diagnosis and without necessary medical treatment, which can be a form of medical negligence.

The risk of brain aneurysms is higher for African-Americans and women. Generally the risk of a rupture increases with age and in those with a family history of brain aneurysms. Additionally, the risk dramatically increases during the third trimester of pregnancy and accounts for up to 25% of maternal deaths. Patients reporting complaints of severe headaches combined with a sudden onset of nausea, vomiting, neck pain, and sensitivity to light are potential candidates for subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Of those patients diagnosed with subarachnoid hemorrhages, only about half presented with an alteration in consciousness or abnormal neurological signs. Therefore, making the correct diagnosis often requires a comprehensive history and physical exam in order to identify the different manifestations of hemorrhage symptoms. However, the fast pace of the Emergency Room does not always lend itself to detailed examinations. This tendency to rush a patient through accounts for a large number of Illinois Emergency Room errors in diagnosing subarachnoid hemorrhages, which could be improved with slower, more comprehensive exams.

Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice cases for over 30 years, serving areas in and around the Cook County area, including Oak Lawn, Skokie, Berwyn, and Hoffman Estates.